6 Ways to Avoid Online Teaching Burnout

online teaching burnoutJob burnout is described by the Mayo Clinic as “a special type of job stress – a state of physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.” Sound familiar?

Burnout is a kind of stress any of us could experience as we pursue careers in education, a broad field that demands a great deal of time, energy, and personal commitment. It’s a state that could affect how much we care about our courses and teaching, which in turn impacts our interaction with students. A study cited by Faculty Focus found that, “students need to feel that the instructor (and other students) care that they learn,” which is important “even for adult learners.”

Fortunately, there are strategies available to help us stay connected to the course materials, conversations, and, of course, our students. Preventing burnout means staying connected with the work, as well as our own needs and expectations for personal growth and professional development.

Same Course, New Semester

We’re about a month into a new year and semester – how are your classes going? Many of us are teaching courses we’ve taught before, and teaching them part-time while also employed elsewhere. Student interest and engagement are often the focus of online teaching, but it’s crucial for instructors to be interested and engaged in the course as well.

Job burnout is an issue faced by teachers at all levels of education. The Edutopia community, which has a strong focus on K-12, offers a host of resources for “finding your mojo and bringing excitement and creativity back into the classroom.” A recent Inside Online Learning (#IOLchat) discussion among higher education professionals confirmed that college-level instructors are not immune to problems associated with maintaining motivation.

It bears mentioning here that in there area few benefits related to teaching a specific course every term. Taking on a new course every semester would be exhausting, to say the least, and only add more stress to the situation. I’ve been teaching the same to courses (almost) every semester for the past three years or so. Being comfortable with the content and technology, as well as being able to anticipate where students will have questions, allows me to be more involved with students and less distracted by the technology and other aspects of delivery. Having a course routine in place can be nice, making us more effective and productive, but when that routine becomes a rut, you may need to shake things up a bit.

6 Tips and Techniques

Teaching online, as opposed to a traditional classroom, can be especially monotonous since the materials are often standardized in such a way that offers little room for modification. Here are a few ideas for maintaining faculty motivation in online courses, which were developed during our recent Twitter chat:

1. Take cues from your students.

The experiences and ideas each student brings to the class are different, and each term there’s a new group of students interacting with each other and the course materials. Why are they enrolled in your course and how does it relate to the rest of their program, interests, and career goals? You need to get to know them, maybe better than the standard online course introduction discussion board. Consider creating a short first-week survey to get some input, and use student responses to tailor your weekly announcements, resource collection, and discussion forums for this unique combination of learners. Stanford University’s XML Data pre-course survey and San Juan College’s pre-course survey for online students provide a couple of examples.

2. Make small changes.

How much leeway do you have to modify your online course? This is determined by each institution and program, and can vary widely. Big changes can involve a lot of time, logistical coordination, and a formal approval process. This kind of modification includes things like adopting a new textbook, re-ordering modules, and changing the scope of topics covered. Small changes, however, such as establishing a course hashtag (for use with social media), adding supplemental reading resources, and tweaking discussion topics and activities can be more easily and quickly incorporated.

3. Pilot test something new.

Have an idea for updating an assignment? Interested in embedding a social media feed with your LMS? What about setting up a class blog, wiki, or YouTube account? Your academic department, faculty development office, and technical support personnel can provide guidance and assistance, even in a course you didn’t design or develop. There may even be an opportunity to participate in a new initiative that’s already been approved and is actively seeking pilot participants.

4. Take a turn as an online student.

How long has it been since you were on the “other side of the screen” as a student? Communicating at a distance, connecting with an instructor as a learner, learning how to use new technology, these are just a few of the everyday challenges our students face. There’s nothing quite like first-hand experience as a method for improving and informing your approach, and getting a fresh perspective. If enrolling in a formal academic course isn’t possible, consider participating in a MOOC or other online professional development opportunity.

5. Step away from your computer (smartphone, tablet, …).

Having a course “ready to go” also means you might get a break between semesters or academic terms. This break is needed, as is taking some time for yourself away from the course site during the term. While technology allows instructors and students 24/7-access to course materials and each other, this doesn’t mean we should keep a round-the-clock work schedule. Eating right, getting enough sleep, and exercising all impact our general health and need to be part of our regular routines in order to maintain energy levels and motivation.

6. Think about your workflow.

Not unrelated to item #5 above, there may be tweaks you can make to the time you spend “in” your courses and on related teaching tasks. Work/life balance is a hotly debated topic these days (is it really possible?), but realistic pacing and scheduling can go a long way in preventing burnout. Grading immediately comes to my mind here. Consider replacing marathon grading sessions with a more regulated approach. The 30/30 app is one tool that can help you create a more productive “work cycle” that consists of 30 minutes of uninterrupted work followed by a 30-minute break: Work, Break, Repeat.

Thanks to @jshamsy, @ODU_DL, and @jaymelinton for sharing these experiences and ideas during the recent Inside Online Learning chat.

There are many factors that affect our motivation and enthusiasm for teaching, and some are more under our control than others. Finding strategies that work for you and your courses is a positive first step in the ongoing effort to avoid teaching burnout.

How do you use to stay motivated and connected to the materials, conversations, and processes in your course? Consider sharing your suggestions with us here.

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Source: Inside Online Learning Blog